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Natural Connections

Updated: May 6, 2023

Amidst the confusion, anxiety, and fear at this time last year, we all took a deep pause. Without distractions, we were able to focus on the important.

Synchronously with the first lockdown announcement, public health began promoting safe activities. Without much surprise, almost all of them involved the outdoors and being immersed in nature. Walking, hiking, biking, roller blading; these merchandise items flew off of shelves just as fast as snowshoes, snowmobiles and fat bikes did this fall.

We found connections by connecting with and within nature.

As the lockdown progressed, we celebrated stories showing how the retreat of human impact allowed nature the room to thrive. Whether it be clearer skies, fewer cars on the roads, or less garbage in nature areas, we could see the human impact. Yet within almost moments of relaxation of restrictions, our old ways returned. Our newfound appreciation gave way to the rush for normalcy.

Can we do better than normalcy? There is much discussion about post-pandemic resets in economies, standards of living, relationships between members of society... and yet we cannot forget about our connections with nature.

We think of our human normalcy as being set apart from nature. We live in houses, drive cars, and eat food which is specially grown to feed us; and nature exists “somewhere” else. Somewhere where you can go on your terms. But there are examples from nature that do provide us valuable insight.

It comes in the form of a fungus, Armillaria solidipes (honey fungus).

Like humans, this honey fungus has enormous potential to affect its local environment. This single organism which lives in Oregon’s Malheur National Forest covers 3.7 square miles (2,400 acres) and is roughly 8,000 years old and weighing over 34,000 tons, making it both the single largest and heaviest terrestrial organism on the planet.

But interesting, this remarkable fungus is not a product of individual success. It is a product of connections, where individuals connecting together strengthen and enlarge the whole.

Honey fungi grow in individual networks using fibers called mycelia. Mycelia work in a similar fashion to plant roots whereby they take water and nutrients from the soil. At the same time, they make chemicals that are shared with other soil organisms. When mycelia from different individual honey fungus bodies meet, they can attempt to fuse to each other. When the mycelia successfully fuse to each other, they link their very large fungal bodies together. This, in turn, has created the largest terrestrial organism on the planet.

All. Accomplished. By. Connections.

This giant organism plays an essential role in soil development and maintenance, with mycelium working to prevent soil erosion. It also happens to be a parasite, killing and consuming conifer trees, and has wrecked havoc on Fir stands throughout the area.

I can’t help but compare this fungus--built by connections--to us, as humans. We are more connected than ever before and our potential to impact our environment (positively or negatively) has never been greater.

As we eagerly look forward to end of the pandemic, lets challenge “normalcy”.

Let’s prioritize nature and reap the rewards of those natural connections.

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